Sunday, September 27, 2020
Sept. 27, 2020

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Businesses need help with labyrinth of state, local laws, requirements

State and local laws and ordinances can be vexing for business owners who have a list of requirements to comply with while trying to run their companies


NEW YORK — When American Rhino, a retailer inside Boston’s Faneuil Hall, expanded to an unused space on the landmark building’s second floor, the company discovered the labyrinth that is local laws and ordinances.

“There were lots of twists and turns — you really don’t know what’s going to happen next,” says Annie Venditti, the company’s vice president of operations. “You learn by trial and tribulation.”

As American Rhino renovated the space, it had to work with the Fire Department, going through multiple inspections that turned up more requirements it had to comply with — for example, where lights had to be placed. Then, when the space was ready and the retailer wanted to rent it out for events, there was back-and-forth with liquor licensing officials.

State and local laws and ordinances can be vexing for small business owners who find they have a list of requirements to comply with while trying to run their companies. And laws continually go on the books as officials look after the welfare of citizens, workers and the environment. The laws and ordinances may affect businesses of all sizes, but small companies can find compliance more difficult because they don’t have employees whose job is to keep abreast of new requirements.

Owners also must comply with federal laws and regulations that can be seen as more burdensome than state and local requirements, in part because tax and health laws and rules affect every company, and labor laws create responsibilities for every employer. There are also thousands of federal regulations that individually affect smaller numbers of businesses, often because they govern specific industries, although the Trump administration has been eliminating or rewriting some of those rules.

Where to look for help

With state and local governments frequently adding laws, ordinances and regulations, small business owners likely will find it hard or impossible to keep track of all the requirements they must meet in the course of running their companies.

Whether they’re employers, doing construction or are involved in highly regulated work like running a restaurant, owners should consider getting help from consultants or professionals like lawyers or accountants, especially since they may also have to comply with federal statutes or rules.

Getting advice and guidance will head off problems, even lawsuits, down the road, says Scott Scheel, president of The Commercial Academy, a commercial and retail real estate owner and manager. He notes that companies that violate zoning ordinances or other building codes can be forced to rip apart or demolish the work they’ve done.

“Be sure what you’re looking to do is permitted,” Scheel says.

Some places where owners can get help:


Human resources consultants or providers and employment law attorneys are resources for owners who want to be sure they are in compliance with all labor laws, ordinances and regulations. Owners whose companies are in highly regulated industries — for example, manufacturing facilities that must comply with many Occupational Safety and Health Administration rules — should consider a consultant or attorney with expertise in that area.


HR consultants and payroll companies can help businesses with the calculation and reporting requirements for paid sick and family leave time in states and localities where these benefits are mandated by law. They can also help with reporting requirements for the Affordable Care Act.


Owners should consider hiring consultants or project managers who can oversee work and be sure that local zoning and building ordinances are complied with. State and local planning boards and building departments can also be a resource, Scheel says.

Local officials can also guide companies about compliance with laws and ordinances that aim to protect the environment. These can be an issue during construction projects.


Local health departments are resources for finding out the requirements for handling and storing food, and how kitchens are to be built. When it comes to choosing stoves and refrigerators, Scheel also recommends kitchen supply companies. They should know how local rules apply to their equipment.


Local building and consumer affairs offices can be resources about occupancy rates, hours of operation, noise levels and other issues that can arise when people assemble in a public space.

Many companies, including American Rhino, turn to consultants and professionals to help ensure that they comply with rules, whether they’re doing construction, running a retailer, restaurant or medical facility, employing people or just paying taxes. Consultants and pros like lawyers and accountants are continually on the lookout for changes in requirements; while many take effect Jan. 1 or July 1 in any given year, others can become effective on a less memorable date or may be immediately enforceable.

Technology consultant Larry Kovnat is hearing more from his small business clients these days — they need to know about a new law aimed at protecting New York residents’ private information from cybercriminals. The law, the Stop Hacks and Improve Electronic Data Security Act, known informally as the SHIELD Act, broadens the types of information to be protected and the types of data breaches that must be protected against.

It makes anyone, a person or a business, that owns or licenses a New York resident’s private information responsible for reporting a breach.

Data protection and privacy laws like the SHIELD Act, which starts taking effect March 21, and the California Consumer Privacy Act, which goes in effect Jan. 1, are becoming more common, creating more work even for companies outside the states where the laws are enacted.

“Any business is responsible for understanding the environment it operates in,” says Kovnat, who works for the technology company iV4, based in Rochester, N.Y. “They might not have the expertise or resource to deal with this on their own.”

Adam Calli has been telling new Washington, D.C., clients about the law taking effect in July that grants paid family leave to staffers; to comply, companies must pay taxes and file reports with the local government.

“Cities, states and counties are being more active” in requiring paid sick leave and family leave for workers, said Calli, founder of Arc Human Capital, a human resources consultancy based in Vienna, Va.